The Last of Us' creative director Neil Druckmann revealed that the game's development team was originally formed to reboot Naughty Dog's beloved Jak and Daxter series.
This reveal came out of Druckmann's IGDA keynote, where he explained that shortly after Uncharted 2 shipped, Naughty Dog decided to split its studio into two teams, with the second to be led by Uncharted 2 director Bruce Straley and Druckmann.
"We found the idea we were passionate about were kind of getting away from what Jak and Daxter was. We were questioning 'are we doing this for marketing reasons? Naming something Jak and Daxter, when it's not really Jak and Daxter? Or are are we really passionate about it?' And the answer is we felt like it was more for marketing... We felt like we weren't doing service to what the fans of this franchise really liked, even if our reinvention of Daxter was pretty damn good-looking."
"So we went to our boss and said, 'do we have to do this?' And he said 'No. I thought it would just be easier for you guys if you started with something. But if you want to do something else, come up with something else." And thus The Last of Us was born.
Of course it wasn't that easy. In the insightful talk Druckmann explained that he initially came up with the idea for The Last of Us when he was a grad student at Carnegie Mellon and had to pitch a zombie game idea to his professor's buddy and director of Night of the Living Dead, George Romero.
Druckmann said he wanted to combine the mechanics of Ico with the character of Hartigan from Sin City and plop them into the world of Night of the Living Dead. The game was supposed to be about an old cop protecting a young girl and when the cop's heart condition would act up, the player's control would switch to that of the girl, who would temporarily become the protector. It was to end with the cop getting bitten and the girl having to shoot him.
Romero passed on the idea.
Once Druckmann landed a job at Naughty Dog he still wanted to tell this story, but as a comic book. He put together a prototype of a story called The Turning, which would have made the male lead an ex-con who lost his daughter and wants to redeem himself by helping save a teenage girl.
This too failed to get greenlit.
Eventually Druckmann and Straley chewed around the idea for a game called Mankind, which had a similar premise to The Last of Us, only the virus would only affect women, leaving Ellie as the first known immune female. Obviously, this never came to light.
"The reason it failed was because it was a misogynistic idea," Druckmann lamented. "A lot of the female workers at Naughty Dog came up and said 'I don't like this idea. I understand what you're trying to do - it is ultimately a story about the love of a girl - but the way it's coming off is you're having a bunch of women turning into monsters and you're shooting them in the face.'"
Initially Druckmann was defensive of this criticism, but he came around to it over time. "Eventually I did have this kind of awakening and I realised that was not good."
Inevitably we come around to something much more similar to the game we all know and love, though there were some differences Druckmann outlined at PAX last month.
It's a fascinating talk about the creative process and how The Last of Us' story evolved over the years. You can watch the entire keynote below.